Sociology and State Policy

Notes on the debate that may come up for one of the longer mark essays for the AQA SLCY 04 paper.

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The reasons for conducting sociological research

In order to establish whether sociology should influence state policy you must first establish why sociologists are studying society in the first place. There are three main reasons why sociologists conduct their research:

  • Achademic reasons - a person studies sociology for the pure love of the subject or facination of how society works and aren't aiming to make any changes to the current system
  • Making a difference - conducting research to try and make society a better place for everyone to live by influencing social policy
  • To insight radical social change - some sociologists such as traditional Marxists and radical Feminists want to cause radical social change in order to rearrange society and government to make society 'better'.
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Reasons for letting research influence state polic

Giddons (2001) idnetifies a number of reasons why sociological research should influence state policy:

  • Understanding social situations such as poverty helping make state policy better 'solve' these issues
  • Awareness of cultural differences such as disability and race as sociology forces us to look beyond our ussual prospective and can help social policy better help these groups
  • Assessment of the effectiveness of state policies can be acheived using sociology as research can check that policy is as worthwhile as possible for example NHS cost - benefit analysis
  • Sociology can help people's self confidence from an incrase in self knowledge whereby people feel more empowered to speek out as there is research to support them in their quest for example sociological research can expose discrimination within society.
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Arguments against letting sociology influence stat

Many sociologists contest the idea that research should be used to influence state policy for a number of reasons:

  • There is a debate between realist and critical criminologists. Critical criminologists (traditional Marxists) suggest that by giving the government research that is conducted the government will find new ways to exploit the working class. Realist sociolgists disagree with this argument
  • A similar debate exists between radical and liberal feminists whereby radical feminisst suggest that because the government is patriarchal, providing them with research would be pointless
  • Postmodernists suggest that the fact that sociology can provide all the answers is all an illusion and is linked to the ideas of the modern era. Postmodernists suggest that sociology can only help us understand and does not provide answers and thus shoudl not influence state policy

PTO

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Politics

There are concerns about giving some sociological research for political gain rather than for the achademic merit. There is also concern about whether it is worthwhile to provide research to the government. A number of issues have been identified:

  • Access to power - Governments will only listen when a party is large enough to be considered 'worth the votes'
  • Financial Constraints - In times of budget cuts it is unlikely that the government can please everyone and some social issues would need considerable capital to sort out
  • Entrenched groups - If a policy does not reflect the needs of a more powerful group then no change is likely to be made for example with large companies.
  • Time scale - In the UK a parliament is only in power for 4 years. Some social issues may take longer than this to solve which may cause problems with practucally implimenting changes. 
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